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An Electoral College tie? It’s very unlikely, but here’s how it could still happen

President Trump and Joe Biden.
President Trump and Joe Biden.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

It’s a scenario that almost no one wants to think about: What if the presidential election ends in an Electoral College tie? It’s highly unlikely, but if the results break exactly the right way, it’s still possible.

The idea of Joe Biden and Donald Trump ending their grinding 2020 presidential campaign in a tie, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, depends on Trump winning the state of Arizona, which has already been called for Biden by the Associated Press and Fox News. Other networks including NBC, CBS, CNN, and the New York Times have not yet called the race for Biden. Additionally, Trump would have to win Nevada, where Biden is currently leading and much of the remaining vote is expected to come from heavily Democratic Clark County.

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But should Trump pick up both Arizona and Nevada here’s how it could play out: Trump would also have to win Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Alaska. And Biden would need to win in Georgia, where he’s currently cutting into Trump’s lead. If those things happen, and all of the other race calls from the Associated Press stand, the race would be tied at 269 to 269.

This scenario would also depend on the remaining mail-in ballots breaking for Trump in Pennsylvania but for Biden in Georgia, according to David Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College.

“It’s mathematically possible, but a world in which the late mail-in ballots favor Biden only in Georgia but not Pennsylvania and Nevada seems very unlikely given what we know about the trends in all these states,” Hopkins told the Globe Thursday. “In other words, a world in which Biden carries Georgia is almost certainly a world in which he carries at least one of the other states as well.”

What happens in the event of a tie in the Electoral College? It’s never happened in modern history, but the presidency would be thrown to the House of Representatives to decide. While that may sound straightforward because of the Democratic majority in the House, it’s not. In this case, the Constitution specifies that each state’s House delegation gets one vote, which means that although there are nine Democratic representatives from Massachusetts, only one vote counts. According to a ProPublica tally, Republicans have an advantage under this system, controlling 26 delegations while Democrats control only 23, with the delegation in Pennsylvania tied.

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To make matters more complex, the vote must be held by the next Congress, which won’t be sworn in until January. That means that the “balance of power” in each state’s delegation isn’t even fully clear yet, because not all House races have been decided.

In other words: It’s complicated.

James Pindell of the Globe staff contributed.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.